LONDON, England, May 7 – Roberto di Matteo’s Chelsea side will face Liverpool at Anfield on Tuesday with renewed hope of securing the top four finish that would guarantee their Champions League qualification.
The two teams will meet just three days after the FA Cup final that ended with Chelsea celebrating a third success in the competition in four years following a 2-1 victory at Wembley.
And while Liverpool have only pride to play for in the rematch, di Matteo’s men were given fresh incentive as Newcastle and Tottenham stumbled in their quest for maximum points.
Had either of those two teams won last weekend, Chelsea’s hopes of finishing fourth in the Premier League would have all but disappeared.
That would have left the Stamford Bridge club needing to win the Champions League final against Bayern Munich to ensure a return to Europe’s premier club competition — and consign the fourth-best team in England to the second-tier Europa League.
But Chelsea could yet provide themselves with an insurance policy against losing the Champions League final by finishing fourth.
That would happen if they beat Liverpool and Blackburn in their final two league games and Tottenham and Newcastle failed to defeat Fulham and Everton respectively on Sunday.
The odds are stacked heavily against them, but Chelsea’s end-of-season revival has shown the danger of dismissing their chances.
First, though, they must carry on where they left off at Wembley.
“It’ll be a bit weird playing them (Liverpool) again so soon after this,” Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard said.
“But we still have two league games to play before the Champions League final and we want to finish as best as we can.
“It will be a lot easier going to Anfield with a win than if we had lost,” added the England international.
Success is breeding self-belief at Chelsea and the prospect of appearing in the Champions League final is providing added motivation.
“We will carry the confidence through and hope it carries on in the Champions League final,” said Lampard.
“We have one more cup final to go, then who knows? It is nice to go into the next game — then the Champions League final — with a win.”
Chelsea, beaten on penalties by Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, have never won European club’s football greatest prize and Lampard said: “It is huge, we have been close a few times and everyone at the club — the fans as well — is desperate to win it.”
Temporary Chelsea coach di Matteo, the former Blues midfielder put in caretaker charge after Andre Villas-Boas was sacked in March, must decide how to manage his squad after a draining run of games.
Ramires and Didier Drogba were the goal scorers at Wembley and while Ramires seems certain to start at Anfield, Drogba may be rested, paving the way for Fernando Torres to start on his return to his old club.
For Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, there is the difficult task of raising his players after such a demoralising cup final defeat.
Poor for an hour, the Reds were revived at Wembley by the introduction of striker Andy Carroll who scored one goal and was denied an equaliser only by the heroics of Chelsea keeper Petr Cech.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has already set his sights on next season when the Reds, who won the last of their 18 English titles back in 1990, will be expected to improve on a desperately poor league campaign.
“We’ve been fantastic in the cup competitions this year (Liverpool won the League Cup prior to their FA Cup final defeat) and the players deserve a lot of credit for that,” said Gerrard.
However, the England midfielder added: “We haven’t been good enough in the league this year. We deserve criticism and we need to take criticism like men.
“We need to do better. We’re Liverpool Football Club; we’re not seventh or eighth in the league. We’re better than that.”